In February Gov. Scott Walker will give his budget address, in which he lays out his vision for Wisconsin’s next biennial budget. While that speech is 8 weeks away, the Governor has been working on his budget since the end of the election in November.
The budget will be informed by the state’s fiscal situation, the Governor’s conservative philosophy, the pressures placed on him by lobbyists and finally his Republican colleagues in the Assembly and Senate.
One major criticism of Governor Walker during his first year in office was that he rushed forward with controversial legislation without much public input, with the budget repair bill that became Act 10 the primary example. Later that year the Governor admitted he could have done a better job selling the public on the need for the elimination of most collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
This time around Governor Walker has been traveling the state visiting businesses, talking about his budget priorities and taking questions from employees. I attended a recent Talk With Walker at Virent, Inc in Madison. The Governor spent more than an hour taking and answering questions from the 30 or so employees at the meeting.
When the Talk With Walker tour was first introduced there was some snickering among the Governor’s critics that this was just a dog and pony show. But I saw employees asking real questions and getting real answers.
Virent, Inc. is a biotech company that is using green materials to replace oil. Employees challenged the Governor on his support (or lack thereof) for green technology. Walker stated he only supported green if it saves green or makes green (referring to money). Walker was challenged on equal pay for women and how to responsibly fund a venture capital bill.
After the talk the Governor told the media this was representative of the kinds of questions and suggestions he gets all over the state, and says some of the ideas will end up in the budget or as part of different legislation.
After the protests and acrimony of the last two years, it was nice to see the Governor and Wisconsin’s citizens be able to interact with each other in a peaceful and constructive atmosphere. Maybe some of that spirit will follow Gov. Walker back to the legislature.